Arnold’s mindset for success

Take a look at the traits that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a huge success.

During his spectacular career in bodybuilding, the movies, and as governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger succeeded in part because of his ability to accurately assess situations in which he found himself and out-smart and out-think his opponents. Sometimes it seemed he was a grown-up in a world of children, a Great Dane in a pack of poodles.

How was he able to do this? How exactly does Arnold’s mind work? I’ve known him since 1975 and we’ve worked on three book projects together. For anyone wondering how this collaboration has worked, let me report that I did all the typing.

So I have had ample time to observe Arnold and how he deals with the world. Read on below for some insights into his thinking process and psychological makeup. Arnold’s approach to life is not only valuable when it comes to achieving a variety of life goals, but it’s also the basis of the work ethic he followed to achieve maximum results when it came to diet and exercise.

Arnold is an outer-directed individual.

A key factor in understanding Arnold is that he isn’t somebody who lives primarily inside his head. He isn’t particularly introspective or consciously analytical, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t intelligent; far from it.

His mind is working all the time, but it isn’t the internal workings of his mind that interest him. He isn’t that interested in examining his own thought processes in detail. Rather, Arnold focuses his attention on the outside world, on what’s going on around him—who people are, what they are thinking and feeling, and how that’s going to influence what happens in any given situation.

In that regard, Arnold has a lot in common with action-oriented individuals like race car drivers, special forces operative and pro boxers, all of whom have be totally in the present to succeed.

Arnold has a strong sense of reality.

There are different ways of looking at reality. An introspective, inner-directed individual may well be most concerned with reality on the philosophical level. Or questions of what might be, should be or could be.

Arnold’s approach to understanding reality is much more practical. He wants to know what makes things happen, what will make a difference to the outcome of a situation or what won’t, what’s important and what isn’t.

Arnold can be both self-critical and self-confident.

Watching Arnold preparing for a bodybuilding competition, I was always struck with how honest he could be about his own physique. He’d look in the mirror and see exactly what his weak points were. Yet he could do this without any lessening of his overall self-confidence.

Whether by instinct or experience, Arnold came to understand that self-confidence based on ignorance of your weaknesses is no path to success and victory.

Instead, the successful man of action is ideally somebody who is not overly self-conscious nor introspective (as Arnold isn’t), and who has a healthy if not tenacious grasp of what counts and what doesn’t count (as Arnold does). They accept that nobody’s perfect, that you have to do the best with whatever you have, and they can assess their strengths and weaknesses as clearly as possible. Then, they take whatever steps necessary to make the best use of those qualities.

Arnold is goal-oriented.

Life, to Arnold, is a series of goals. In Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, he compares having a specific goal in mind to being the captain of a ship. A ship’s captain would never leave port, he points out, with no destination in mind, intending to simply sail aimlessly around in the ocean. He’d have a definite destination and charts to show him how to get there.

Arnold believes that life should involve the same kind of planning. He admits that all the while he was winning bodybuilding contests, he was intending at some point to become a movie star. There is speculation nowadays that, having become a movie star, Arnold already had political career in mind for the future. Maybe, maybe not. But if past experience is any indication, he had some future goal in mind and a definite plan for achieving it.

Arnold has the ability to focus.

When Arnold was winning one Mr. Olympia title after another, he was also making a lot of money in real estate and engaged in a variety of other activities. How did he do this without harming his competitive career? Because of his ability to compartmentalize his life and concentrate and focus on each aspect of it in turn.

When Arnold trained, he trained. His mind and his attention were on his workouts. Once he left the gym, he left the training behind him and turned his attention to business, real estate, collecting art, social activities, or whatever else he was involved with. Too many bodybuilders aren’t able to do this.

They don’t concentrate. They think about what’s happening in the rest of their lives when they’re in the middle of a workout and let their minds dwell on bodybuilding when they’re supposed to be doing something else.

Arnold doesn’t waste time on inessentials.

He only cares about what works. This has made him a success in bodybuilding and in the movies, and has earned him reputation as an astute and honest businessman.

In business, Arnold negotiates hard but always sticks by his agreements. Otherwise, he has observed, you just make trouble for yourself. And Arnold is too clever for that.

Arnold is methodical and well-organized.

Whenever I’ve gone to Arnold’s house I’ve been struck with how neat everything always was. A place for everything and everything in it’s place. And I realized that this ability to keep his life well-organized had played a part in Arnold’s success in bodybuilding.

He told me, for example, that he used to sit down at the beginning of each month and write out a training program for the next 30 days. At the end of the month, he’d evaluate how well that program had worked for him, make whatever adjustments he felt would be beneficial and incorporate them into the next month’s workout program.

He kept careful track of each workout, as well. For example, in his early years in the sport, Arnold used to keep track of every set he did in the gym. Of course, when I first watched Arnold training back in 1975, there was no evidence of this kind of careful planning. His workouts seemed unplanned and spontaneous. But this seeming spontaneity was deceptive.

He was only able to train this way because of the experience he’d gained after years and years of evolving and developing a “master plan” that taught him what kind of training worked best for his individual physique.

Arnold is not a creature of appetite.

I’ve eaten many meals with Arnold over the years, but I can rarely remember a time when he ate more than I did. Arnold is not indifferent to food, but he is not ruled by his appetite. He drinks, but isn’t a drinker. He loves to ski, but during his competitive bodybuilding career, when the simplest skiing accident could have cost him the Mr. Olympia title that year, Arnold kept off the slopes.

The same is true of motorcycles. He enjoyed riding his Harley (“The reason I like Harley-Davidsons is because they are so American!”) but while he was a competitive bodybuilder he stayed away from them. The pleasure of riding wasn’t worth the risk of an injury which could have slowed down or even ended his bodybuilding career.

Arnold is not ruled by his possessions.

Arnold has always been good at making money. He likes to live well, to have the wherewithal to live as he likes, buy what he wants and travel as he pleases. Yet, at the same time, making money and acquiring possessions are not that important to him. They are a byproduct of success, not the standard by which success itself is measured.

Arnold has nice clothes, but he doesn’t dress extravagantly. He likes exciting cars and buys some interesting and expensive ones from time to time. But often drives a more practical Hummer (which he had converted to electric). When I first met him in the 70s, he drove a well-used Mercedes.

He owns an expensive airplane, but charters it out when not using it to pay for its upkeep. The last thing Arnold would be likely to do is to try and impress you with what he wears or what he drives.

Arnold knows how to enjoy life.

Arnold’s self-confidence and ability to thrive on success comes about in large part because he knows and seems always to have known how to enjoy life. Arnold demonstrates that you can be serious without acting serious all the time.

Sometimes, life isn’t a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s hard work or heartbreak, problems and challenges. But these moment-to-moment difficulties should not interfere with the fundamental enthusiasm for living, for being alive and being able to experience the sense of your own existence.

This is where the deepest enjoyment of living comes, and if you are in touch with those kinds of feelings, as Arnold could tell you, you usually end up having a lot of fun as well.

Working on the Encyclopedia one day, I asked Arnold how he was. “I am always okay,” he replied.


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